Hidden Villa: old MacDonald’s farm, and much more

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This is one of those things I love about the Bay Area. You can be in the midst of urban snarl somewhere on 101, or the concrete expanse of outer Mission, and in less than 40 minutes you’re so deep in countryside you can almost hear the banjo music. Well maybe not, but at least you can trade in your city stress for plenty of quietude and nature. That’s just part of what the idyllic Hidden Villa farm and wilderness preserve offers.

Located in the peninsula town of Los Altos Hills and just off the 280 (near Foothill College), the 1600-acre organic farm lets visitors casually stroll the grounds at their self-guided leisure (despite a vague feeling of trespassing at first). And aside from a somewhat modern building and swimming pool, the farm is the image of a bygone era – no factory production here. The first place you come to after parking is the country garden, more for education than production, with patches of seemingly everything: broccoli, kale, rhubarb, sorrel, beets, lavender, rosemary, etc., etc., along with scarecrows, painted signs and small twig ‘huts’ with tree stumps for stools… for the resident dwarves and elves I assume.

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Next stop is the sheep and cow barn, where the friendly sheep come up to the fence, and the cows are available at certain times for practicing your milking technique (for ages 5+). From there, cross the small stone bridge and walk the road till you come to the gate of the chicken yard. They’re all free range, so the 12 varieties of hens will be running around your feet as you stroll through. You can buy their eggs, as well as any of the animals on the farm. That is if you can bear to bbq that pig after patting it on the head. Though if it makes you feel better, all the animals are organically fed, seasonally pastured and antibiotic free. Continue on to see the sows and their piglets in a barn inside the chicken range (with hens often making themselves at home in the sty). As cute as the little ones are, the adults are massive and somewhat intimidating animals, snorting with total indifference to your presence.

The farm practices sustainable agriculture, such as rotating animals from one pasture to another. It also runs a CSA. And it has a number of school programs and summer camps it’s been operating since the 1940s. The first hostel on the west coast was established here in 1937, and is still in operation. Oh, and there’s also a Mediterranean-style villa, which is somewhat hidden, and is the former home of the Duveneck family who established the farm in 1924. You can rent the house for a reception or event, or stay in the hostel or a private cabin (which is truly hidden). The actual farming operation takes up a small portion of the acreage here; the rest is wooded and rustic with trails and streams and knotted old live oaks. Whether country scenery, quaint garden or live farm animals, there’s a lot to enjoy here, and it’s close enough to be spontaneous.

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